Week two of my annual July fund-raising campaign

Scroll down for the most recent posts. See also this post about the new print edition of Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8.

We are now in the second week of the July fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black, celebrating its 14th anniversary. Thank you to everyone that donated so generously last week. I hope week two will do as well.

Your donations and subscriptions have allowed me the freedom and ability to analyze objectively the ongoing renaissance in space, as well as the cultural changes — for good or ill — that are happening across America. Four years ago, just before the 2020 election I wrote that Joe Biden’s mental health was suspect. Only in the past two weeks has the mainstream media decided to recognize that basic fact. Fourteen years ago I wrote that SLS and Orion were a bad ideas, a waste of money, would be years behind schedule, and better replaced by commercial private enterprise. Even today NASA and Congress refuse to recognize this reality.

In 2020 when the world panicked over COVID I wrote that the panic was unnecessary, that the virus was apparently simply a variation of the flu, that masks were not simply pointless but if worn incorrectly were a health threat, that the lockdowns were a disaster and did nothing to stop the spread of COVID. Only in the past year have some of our so-called experts in the health field begun to recognize these facts.

Your help allows me to do this kind of intelligent analysis. I take no advertising or sponsors, so my reporting isn’t influenced by donations by established space or drug companies. Instead, I rely entirely on donations and subscriptions from my readers, which gives me the freedom to write what I think, unencumbered by outside influences.

Please consider supporting my work here at Behind the Black. There are five ways of doing so:

1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.

2. Patreon: Go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. Patreon takes a 12% cut.

3. Donate by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman and mailed to:

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
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4. Paypal: You can use the Paypal options in the tip jar elsewhere on the page to either donate or subscribe. Of all the options, Paypal takes the largest cut, about 16%.

You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage or shown in the menu above. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

This post will stay at the top of the page for the next month. Scroll down to read the most recent posts.

SpaceX launch experiences a failure of upper stage

Second stage engine with leak

For the first time since June 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch experienced a failure today after lifting from Vandenberg in California. During a launch tonight of twenty Starlink satellites, the upper stage showed signs of a fuel leak during its initial burn, and according to a tweet from Elon Musk, it exploded when it relit to make a final orbital adjustment.

Upper stage restart to raise perigee resulted in an engine RUD [rapid unscheduled dissembly] for reasons currently unknown. Team is reviewing data tonight to understand root cause.

Starlink satellites were deployed, but the perigee may be too low for them to raise orbit. Will know more in a few hours.

The arrow on the screen capture from the live feed, taken during the upper stage’s initial burn, indicates that apparent leak.

The first stage however successfully completed its nineteenth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Pacific.

This failure ended an incredible string of 344 successful launches, a record unmatched by any rocket ever in the history of space exploration. It was also the very first launch failure of SpaceX’s Block 5 Falcon 9, the rocket’s final design that has allowed the first stages to be reused now more than twenty times.

The next SpaceX launch is presently scheduled for July 14, 2024, but we should expect that launch to be postponed while engineers investigate the failure tonight. We should also expect that delay to last no more than several weeks, at most.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from the author (hardback $29.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $6.00). Just send an email to zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

Archeologists find the musket balls fired in the first shots of the Revolutionary War

Archeologists digging at Concord discover what they think are five musket balls fired in the first shots of the Revolutionary War.

Archeologists believe five musket balls unearthed in Concord’s Minute Man National Historical Park were fired by colonial militia in the famed battle moments that sparked the Revolutionary War. The 250-year-old musket balls were discovered in an area inside the park where historians believe British troops faced colonial forces at the North Bridge.

Analysis of the artifacts indicates they were fired by colonial militia members from across the river, and not dropped from British weapons when troops were reloading.

Since the Minute Men fired over a period of time, routing the British troops, there is no way to know if these musket balls were the first fired, or among the later rounds. Nonetheless, these artifacts are an actual piece of a moment of history that literally changed all of human history.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 

The print edition can be purchased at Amazon. Or you can buy it directly from the author and get an autographed copy.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

A ridge that runs right over a Martian mesa

A dike in a mesa
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on April 5, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). I have cropped it to focus on the geological feature that likely attracted the interest of the scientists who requested this photo, the mesa that has a ridgeline running over it as if the mesa was not even there.

The mesa is about 80 feet high on its west side, but on its east the ground continues to drop away more than 500 feet as you move 2.5 miles to the east. Based on how the MRO science team interprets the colors [pdf] in the color strip, the orange areas are likely dust while the greenish surface suggests coarser sand and boulders. This conclusion is reinforced if you look at the parallel dunes south of the mesa. The dunes are yellow-orange (dust) while the ground between is yellow-green (sand), exactly what you expect with the larger coarser material settling in lower elevations.

The overview map provides the context, which might help explain the ridgeline.
» Read more

Leaving Earth cover

I now have only one hardback copy left of this book. I will only sell it, autographed, for a reasonable bid. The previous copy sold for $200, plus $7 shipping. If you wish to make an offer, please email me at zimmerman at nasw dot org.

 

Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!

 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 

If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

 
"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

The real reason the propaganda press is finally reporting Biden’s long-known mental decline

A free press is only a friend to the people if it is on their side
A free press is only a friend to the people if it is on
their side.

Many people on the right who follow politics have been somewhat astonished and amused at the aggressive and sudden willingness of the mainstream media — which I will from now on refer to as the propaganda press — to report in detail the long-known mental decline of President Joe Biden.

At first most thought, including myself, it was because of simple embarassment when their refusal to report these plain facts for the past four years was starkly revealed during Biden’s debate with Donald Trump on June 28th. For years they had worked hard to hide Biden’s declining mental health, going as far as accusing anyone on the right who reported it to be “spreading disinformation” (the modern catch-phrase for any reporting critical of Democrats) or to have created “deep fake” videos and manipulating footage to exaggerate Biden’s failings.

This past week I realized this conclusion is wrong. It is literally impossible for the members of this propaganda press to experience embarrassment. They weren’t embarrassed when it became clear their endless accusations that Trump had colluded with the Russians to win the election turned out to be a hoax, perpetrated entirely by the Hilary Clinton campaign. They weren’t embarrassed when it became clear that Hunter Biden’s laptop was real, that it wasn’t Russian disinformation as falsely claimed by 51 intelligence officers and then parroted by this propaganda press, and that everything on that laptop proved the depraved behavior of Hunter Biden and the criminal behavior of the entire Biden family, facts this propaganda press still refuses to cover.

Nor were they embarrassed by the numerous other false accusations against Trump that they have aggressively touted since 2017, all of which have been debunked time after time after time after time.

No, the reason the propaganda press is going full bore right now reporting Joe Biden’s mental decline is because these propagandists want a Democrat to win the eleciton in November, no matter what. » Read more

India picks astronauts to train for manned mission to ISS

India has now reduced from four to two the astronauts it is training for the fourth Axiom commercial mission to ISS, planned for launch no earlier than October 2024.

Only one of these two men will fly on that Axiom mission, with the other being the back-up should a change be required. The decision on who has not yet been made.

The astronauts will have to go to the United States ahead of the mission to train on the specifics of the ISS. “While they have general training for space-fairing, much of their training in India focussed on Gaganyaan modules. They will have to be familiarised with ISS modules and protocols,” the official said.

The names of the two astronauts has not been released, as far as I can find. Either way, this training will be used in preparation for India’s own manned Gaganyaan orbital mission, now scheduled for 2025, since three of these four men will fly on Gaganyaan.

Axiom signs $125 million deal with startup Gravitics to build a module for its space station

Artist conception of Gravitics' Starmax module
Artist conception of Gravitics’ Starmax
module, designed to fit inside Starship

The space station company Axiom on July 9, 2024 awarded a $125 million contract to the Seattle-based startup Gravitics to build a module for its upcoming space station.

The space station modules Gravitics is designing range from 3 meters (9 feet) to 8 meters (26 feet) in diameter. The largest module, which the company boasts will have the “largest interior volume in a standalone spacecraft,” is dubbed StarMax, a name inspired by SpaceX’s towering Starship rocket.

“We started by looking at Starship and saying, ‘Someone is going to maximize that payload volume,'” Doughan said.

It appears this contract is for one of the company’s smaller modules, though this could change with time.

Up until now, Axiom has hired the European company Thales Alenia to build the modules for its Axiom space station, with the first modules to initially be docked with ISS and then undocked to fly independent when ready. This contract, which is not exclusive, indicates Axiom’s desire to develop resources in America.

Launch failure for Chinese pseudo-company Ispace

Based on a very terse report in China’s state-run press today, there was a launch failure today for one of China’s pseudo-companies, launched from the Jiuquan spaceport in the northwest of China.

Further research suggests the failure was on Ispace’s Hyperbola-1 solid-fueled rocket. If so, this would be that rocket’s fourth failure out of seven launches.

No other information about the failure has so far been released.

India now has its own private company building space station modules

Even as India’s space agency ISRO gears up to build its own government space station, a Indian startup is proposing to build and launch its own commercial space station inflatable module, capable of carrying “6 to 16 personnel.”

The company, AkashaLabdhi, says it is negotiations with SpaceX for a launch target in 2027.

Founded in 2023, AkashaLabdhi has prepared its prototype model of the habitat called ‘Antariksh HAB’, according to a report by The Times of India. Antariksh HAB contains features such as an expandable shell that ensures ‘exceptional orbital debris and radiation protection’, the company says on its website. According to AkashaLabdhi, the design has multiple purposes besides space habitation. It can be used for microgravity experiments, satellite maintenance, orbital logistics storage. The company also hopes to see its usage for space tourism, armed forces operations among others.

“With a forward-looking perspective, this adaptable habitat holds potential for long-term lunar surface exploration,” the company said on its website. Built with several layers, the structure is meant to reach its intended orbit of 1,100 km. AkashaLabhi CEO Siddarth Jena told TOI on Wednesday that the structure will take about seven days to fully inflate, once it reaches its desired destination.

How real the plans of this company is unknown. That it exists at all and is proposing such ambitious plans illustrates however the capitalism in space revolution that is going on in India. The country has the technical capabilities to do such things, and is now free to go ahead due to the policies of the Modi government that has forced ISRO to provide aid and support, rather than control everything.

Starliner return delayed until after ground thruster tests are completed and analyzed

Starliner docked to ISS
Starliner docked during the unmanned demo
flight in May 2022

According the NASA and Boeing officials yesterday, they are in the process of doing ground thruster tests to emulate the problems that occurred on the thrusters during docking procedures to ISS in early June, and will not decide on a return date for Starliner until after those tests are completed and analyzed, expected sometime in the next two weeks.

It appears some of the ground tests were delayed slightly due to the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Texas.

It is very important to note that the astronauts are not “stranded” on the station, as a lot of news organizations are still claiming. The thrusters on Starliner that failed are part of the service module, which will not return to Earth when the astronauts come home on the the capsule. They therefore want to do as much research as possible beforehand in order to determine the cause of the failures in order to prevent them on future capsule flights. For example, the ground tests are first attempting to duplicate precisely what happened during docking, and will then do tests attempting to duplicate what will happen during de-orbit.

In the meantime, they appear to have no doubt that they can use Starliner for return, no matter what. At the moment only one thruster appears out-of-commission, and none of the thrusters that failed during docking are used for the de-orbit burn. They are only used for orientation, and the capsule has ample redundancy for this function sufficient for de-orbit.

In addition, it is a good thing for them to extend Starliner’s total flight time. I suspect even if everything had worked as planned they would have extended this mission as they have. This allows them to prove out the in-space operation of the capsule and service module. So far it appears that operation has been excellent, which is one reason they are willing to delay the return to do the ground tests.

Overall, my impression is that the situation is entirely under control, and in fact NASA is reasonably satisfied with the capsule’s operation in general. It appears that the agency will likely have no problem in flying future manned missions with Starliner, though it will want the thruster issue solved beforehand.

As for Boeing, these problems have stained its reputation further, and have likely made it much more difficult to sell future capsule flights to other customers. I would say however that after listening to the last few press briefings it seems to me that Boeing’s manned space division is now doing the proper due diligence it should have done before. For example, the thruster problems appear to be related to overheating during use, which is a very fixable issue.

These facts actually makes me more confident in the capsule, and future potential customers should do the same review themselves.

Iran provided financial support to the pro-Hamas demonstrators

Hamas vs Israel
Apparently these facts are too difficult for the
Biden administration to recognize.
Courtesy of Doug Ross.

According to a statement issued yesteday by Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence in the Biden administration, Iran provided financial as well as material support to the pro-Hamas mobs that took over American campuses in the spring.

As I noted in testimony to the Congress in May, Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in their foreign influence efforts, seeking to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, as we have seen them do in the past, including in prior election cycles. They continue to adapt their cyber and influence activities, using social media platforms and issuing threats. It is likely they will continue to rely on their intelligence services in these efforts, as well as Iran-based online influencers, to promote their narratives.

In recent weeks, Iranian government actors have sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza, using a playbook we’ve seen other actors use over the years. We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters. [emphasis mine]

» Read more

Reanalysis of Apollo seismic data finds 22,000 previously undetected quakes

By taking a new look at the data from the seismometers placed on the lunar surface by the Apollo missions during the 1970s, Keisuke Onodera of the University of Tokyo was able to find approximately 22,000 previously undetected quakes, almost tripling the rate of seismic activity on the Moon. From the paper’s abstract:

In the 1970s, two types of seismometers were installed on the nearside of the Moon. One type is called the Long-Period (LP) seismometer, which is sensitive below 1.5 Hz. The other is called the Short-Period (SP) seismometer, whose sensitivity is high around 2–10 Hz. So far, more than 13,000 seismic events have been identified through analyzing the LP data, which allowed us to investigate lunar seismicity and its internal structure.

On the other hand, most of the SP data have remained unanalyzed because they include numerous artifacts. This fact leads to the hypotheses that (a) we have missed lots of high-frequency seismic events and (b) lunar seismicity could be underestimated.

To verify these ideas, I conducted an analysis of the SP data. … I discovered 22,000 new seismic events, including thermal moonquakes, impact-induced events, and shallow moonquakes. Among these, I focused on analyzing shallow moonquakes—tectonic-related quakes. Consequently, it turned out that there were 2.6 times more tectonic events than considered before. Furthermore, additional detections of shallow moonquakes enabled me to see the regionality in seismicity. Comparing three landing sites (Apollo 14, 15, and 16), I found that the Apollo 15 site was more seismically active than others. These findings can change the conventional views of lunar seismicity.

The data also suggests the northern hemisphere is more active than the southern.

Astronomers: A black hole weighing 8,200 solar masses likely sits at the center of the Milky Ways’ largest globular cluster

Omega Centauri
Click for original image.

By analyzing the motion of seven fast moving stars at the center of the globular cluster Omega Centauri, the largest such cluster in the Milky Way and located about 18,000 light years away, astronomers now think they have detected evidence of an intermediate-sized black hole weight at least 8,200 solar masses.

You can read the published paper here. [pdf] The picture of Omega Centauri to the right, reduced and sharpened to post here, was created from more than 500 images taken over two decades by the Hubble Space Telescope. The inset, figure 1b of the paper, shows those seven fast-moving stars in pink, each having an arrow indicating the distance they are expected to move in a 100 years. The dashed circle marks the region where the black hole is believed to reside, with the dark blue cross in its upper left quadrant the most likely position of the black hole based on calculations.

From the caption for the larger Omega Centauri Hubble image:

Omega Centauri is visible from Earth with the naked eye and is one of the favourite celestial objects for stargazers in the southern hemisphere. Although the cluster is 17 700 light-years away, lying just above the plane of the Milky Way, it appears almost as large as the full Moon when seen from a dark rural area.

Though such intermediate-sized black holes have been theorized as existing inside globular clusters, I think this is the first real evidence of one.

Radar movie produced of 500-foot-wide asteroid

Movie of asteroid

Cool image time! Astronomers have created a movie of radar images of a 500-foot-wide asteroid, dubbed 2024 MK, as it flew past the Earth on June 30, 2024 only 184,000 miles away, using two different radar dishes that are part of NASA’s Deep Space Network normally used for communications with planetary missions.

That movie is to the right.

The Deep Space Network’s 230-foot (70-meter) Goldstone Solar System Radar, called Deep Space Station 14 (or DSS-14), was used to transmit radio frequency signals to the asteroid, and the 114-foot (34-meter) DSS-13 received the reflected signals. The result of this “bistatic” radar observation is a detailed image of the asteroid’s surface, revealing concavities, ridges, and boulders about 30 feet (10 meters) wide.

This is not the first time an asteroid has been observed in this manner using radar, but it illustrates how the technique is becoming increasingly sophisticated, capable of producing images of surprising resolution.

Japanese company proposes building a module to add to Axiom’s space station

Axiom's space station assembly sequence
The assembly sequence for Axiom’s space station while attached to ISS.
Click for original image.

The Japanese company Mitsui has now proposed building a module — based on Japan’s HTV cargo freighter that did several missions to ISS — and sell it to the commercial space stations now under construction.

Mitsui has created a subsidiary called LEO Shachu to develop the module. What makes this project very likely to happen is that Mitsui is also an investor in Axiom’s space station, and according to the article at the link, a Axiom official who is also a retired Japanese astronaut who flew to ISS has expressed interest in it.

This story also helps outline the international landscape of the future stations. While Voyager Space’s Starlab station has been partnering extensively with Europe and Airbus, Axiom appears to be partnering more closely with NASA and Japan. The third station that has obtained NASA money, Blue Origin’s Orbit Reef, had made an earlier deal with Mitsubishi, but appears to have obtained few other outside partners, and that Mitsubishi deal only involved “development work,” not specific hardware. Moreover, Mitsubishi later made a new deal with the Starlab station, suggesting it had broken up with Blue Origin.

A fourth station, being built by the private company Vast with no NASA money, has partnered with SpaceX and ESA. It is also likely to be the first to launch its first module in August 2025, followed soon thereafter by a 30 day 4-person Dragon mission.

Astroscale’s ADRAS-J test spacecraft continues successfully maneuvers around abandoned rocket upper stage

abandoned upper stage, taken by ADRAS-J
Click for original image.

The Japaneses orbital tug startup Astroscale has revealed that its ADRAS-J test spacecraft has successfully completed more complicated autonomous proximity maneuvers around an abandoned H2A rocket upper stage that it rendezvoused with in March 2024.

Astroscale announced July 9 that its Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) spacecraft conducted a “fly around” maneuver, going part way around the H-2A upper stage it has been inspecting for the last few months. ADRAS-J used sensors to maintain a distance of just 50 meters from the stage.

However, about one third of the way through the maneuver, ADRAS-J encountered what the company called an “unexpected attitude anomaly” that triggered an automatic abort. The spacecraft moved away from the stage as designed to avoid any risk of a collision. “The abort maneuver implemented during the fly-around operation demonstrated that ADRAS-J can maintain safety even while performing close approach observations of non-cooperative objects,” the company said in a statement, adding that engineers had found the cause of the anomaly and were preparing for another close approach to the stage.

The picture to the right is of that upper stage, taken shortly after ADRAS-J arrived near the stage in the spring. According to the company, the stage is in remarkably good condition despite fifteen years in orbit, and also is flying in a very stable manner, tumbling almost not at all. This data suggests a mission to grab it and de-orbit it safely would be relatively easy.

Webb: An exoplanet in the habitable zone with a possible nitrogen/CO2 atmosphere and water ocean

Using the Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have obtained new transiting spectroscopy of a “mini-Neptune-sized” exoplanet that circles in the habitable zone a red dwarf star about 48 light years away and have concluded that it appears to have a nitrogen/carbon dioxide atmosphere and even a water ocean.

While it is still only a tentative result, the presence of a nitrogen-rich atmosphere on LHS 1140 b would suggest the planet has retained a substantial atmosphere, creating conditions that might support liquid water. This discovery favors the water-world/snowball scenario as the most plausible.

Current models indicate that if LHS 1140 b has an Earth-like atmosphere, it would be a snowball planet with a vast “bull’s-eye” ocean measuring about 4,000 kilometers in diameter, equivalent to half the surface area of the Atlantic Ocean. The surface temperature at the centre of this alien ocean could even be a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius [68 degrees Fahrenheit]. [emphasis mine]

You can read the preprint of the paper here [pdf].

The highlighted phrase must be noted. These results contain a lot of uncertainties and assumptions. However, the data is tantalizing, to say the least, and justify more observations using Webb. The scientists argue in their paper that because there are only about eight transits of the exoplanet per year — requiring several years of observations to pin down this data more precisely — and because Webb has a limited life expectancy as an infrared observatory, this star should get observational priority.

Columbia University continues to willingly condone anti-semitism among its bloated faculty and staff

Columbia University's seal
The motto means “In Your Light [God],
We Shall See the Light.” Too bad no one
running Columbia now believes in this.

Recently four Columbia University deans were caught exchanging anti-Semitic texts during a panel on Jewish life on campus, attacking some Jewish students simply because those students objected to being harassed, attacked, and even blocked from entering campus buildings by pro-Hamas protesters.

The university immediately suspended three of those deans, with the fourth, Josef Sorett (who held a top position at Columbia), allowed to remain in place after he apologized publicly for his statements.

We have now learned that the university is not going to fire those three suspended deans, but will simply reassign them to other positions.

The university placed Susan Chang-Kim, former vice dean and chief administrative officer, Matthew Patashnick, former associate dean for student and family support, and Cristen Kromm, former dean of undergraduate student life, on leave in June after they exchanged dismissive text messages about the “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present, and Future” panel. The three are on indefinite leave and will not return to their previous jobs, according to a Monday message to the campus community. [emphasis mine]

» Read more

Europe at last launches Ariane-6

Ariane-6 seconds after liftoff
Ariane-6 seconds after liftoff

Arianespace, the commercial rocket arm of the European Space Agency (ESA) today successfully completed the first launch of its new Ariane-6 rocket, lifting off from French Guiana in South America carrying nine cubesats plus two re-entry test capsules.

As of posting, the nine cubesats have been deployed. Of the remaining payloads, one is a smallscale version of the return cargo capsule being built by the French company The Exploration Company. It will test the re-entry technology for that capsule.

UPDATE: There was an issue restarting the upper stage later in the flight that prevented the last payloads from being released. The bigwigs at the press conference at this link repeatedly insisted the flight was a complete success, but this failure of the upper stage is not a good thing, but hardly a disaster. It is similar to problems Firefly had on some of its early flights, which the company was able to overcome.

If all goes as planned, Arianespace and Arianegroup (the private company that builds and owns the rocket) hope to ramp up launches over the next three years, doing one more in 2024, six in 2025, eight in 2026, and ten in 2027. It says the rocket has contracts for thirty launches, eighteen of which are for launching Amazon’s Kuiper internet constellation.

I expect Ariane-6 to face heavy competitive pressure over that time period, not only from SpaceX but from the new European rocket startups that should begin launching at far less cost. The pressure should make the future of Ariane-6 somewhat dim, unless the European Union steps in and mandates its use by European satellite companies. If the latter happens, expect Europe’s entire space industry to suffer badly.

This was Europe’s first launch in 2024, so the leader board in the 2024 launch race has not changed:

71 SpaceX
30 China
8 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads the world combined in successful launches, 83 to 46, while SpaceX by itself still leads the entire world, including other American companies, 71 to 58.

A jumble of blocks in the middle of a Martian flood lava plain

A jumble of blocks on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on March 18, 2024 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

This is one of what I like to call “What the heck?” images. The broken up blocks resemble ice floes on the edge of the Arctic ice cap that have broken off and have begun floating away.

The problem with this theory is many fold. First, this is on Mars and not on Earth. Second the “sea” these blocks are supposedly “floating” in is actual solid lava. There is no water or ice here, on the surface or even underground. This is in the dry tropics of Mars, where little or no near-surface ice has so far been detected.

The overview map below provides some context, and possibly an explanation.
» Read more

Japan dithers about capitalism in space

Despite its government creating in November 2023 a new “Space Strategic Fund” worth more than $6 billion designed to encourage capitalism in space and handing it to Japan’s space agency JAXA to administer, JAXA officials continue to dither on how to use that money to encourage private enterprise in space.

Japan’s space agency is seeking industry proposals for technologies that could contribute to future commercial space stations as the government studies what role it would play in supporting efforts to replace the International Space Station.

…That work will inform plans by Japan on how it can participate in commercial space stations being developed by American companies in partnership with NASA. “We are discussing how we will join NASA’s Commercial LEO Destination program,” said [Yasuo Ishii, senior vice president of JAXA]. “Our responsibility is not clear yet, but, of course, commitment at the government level is essential to commercial operations.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted phrases above reveal the underlying motives of JAXA, which is not to encourage private independent space companies and reduce its involvement. Just the opposite. And it appears Japan’s government is a partner in this. While Japan gave that money to its space agency, which seems to be searching for ways to hold onto its power, both Europe and India instead quickly took power and funding away from their government agencies (Arianespace and ISRO respectively) to encourage independent private space companies to flourish.

This dithering will only put Japan further behind these countries as well as China, a reality that has become increasingly embarassing for the island nation.

Webb: Hot Jupiter exoplanet has atmosphere with the smell of rotten eggs

Using spectroscopy from the infrared Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have measured some of the molecules in exoplanet HD 189733 b, one of the first hot Jupiter exoplanets ever discovered, and found it has an atmosphere rich in hydrogen sulfide, which emits a smell like rotten eggs.

In addition to detecting hydrogen sulfide, the team analyzed the planet’s oxygen and carbon content, pinpointing water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide as major components of the planetary atmosphere. Measuring these heavy elements allows astronomers to compare the composition of exoplanets to that of gas giants in our solar system like Jupiter and Uranus.

The exoplanet, about 64 light years away, has an orbit lasting only about two Earth days, with atmospheric temperatures has hot as 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watch the first launch of Europe’s Ariane-6 rocket

Europe’s Ariane-6 rocket, first proposed in 2014 and about four years behind schedule, will finally make its first launch at 2 pm (Eastern) today.

I have embedded the live stream below.

The rocket was conceived by the European Space Agency (ESA) as an attempt to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. It failed to do this from day one, since the rocket was from day one designed to be expendable. By the 2020s it became clear to European satellite companies and government agencies that its launch cost would be far higher that the Falcon 9, and these companies and agencies have therefore resisted signing launch contracts with ArianeGroup. In fact, if Amazon had not decided in ’22 to give the Ariane-6 a contract for 18 launches to put up its Kuiper satellites, the rocket would have almost no launches in its manifest.

This situation was made even more starkly evident at the end of June, when the European governent weather company Eumetsat cancelled its Ariane-6 contract and switched to the Falcon 9.

Though the unelected bureaucrats and apparatchiks in the European Union are trying to require the use of Ariane-6, ESA and Europe’s rocket future resides in the independent rocket startups (Rocket Factory Augsburg, Isar Aerospace, Hyimpulse, PLD). Because they are in competition with each other as well as SpaceX, and are not saddled with heavy government interference, they can focus on innovating to lower cost. Expect them to quickly begin launching in the next three years, with reusability soon to follow.

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$243.6 million plea deal allows Boeing to avoid a criminal trial

The Justice Department and Boeing have made a plea deal so that the company can avoid a criminal trial for breaking its previous plea deal over 737-Max plane crashes that killed 346 people.

Under the agreement, Boeing will plead guilty to a criminal fraud charge stemming from the fatal crashes in Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia less than five months later that killed a combined 346 people.

Boeing must also pay the hefty fine [$243.6 million], invest at least $455 million in compliance and safety programs, and have an independent monitor oversee Boeing’s safety and quality procedures for three years

The company had made similar deal in 2021 with Justice when it became clear it had deceived FAA regulators about the software on new 737-Max planes that caused these crashes. This new deal is because the company apparently violated that 2021 deal, and allows it to avoid a criminal trial.

A judge still has to approve this new plea deal. Many families of the deceased oppose it, demanding instead that company managers be put on trial. Even if the judge accepts it, Boeing will still be liable for other more recent incidents.

All in all, Boeing comes off as a morally corrupt and incompetent company that was willing to cut corners, lie about it, thus allow more planes to crash because of its actions.

No wonder everyone wants to blame Boeing for every single incident that has recently occurred on various commercial jets, even though in many cases the blame resides more with the maintenance departments of the airlines that had purchased the planes. And no wonder no one believes the claim that the astronauts that flew up to ISS in June are not “stuck” there. They probably aren’t, but why believe anyone from such a compny.

SpaceX launches Turkey’s first homebuilt geosynchronous communications satellite

SpaceX today successfully launched Turkey’s first homebuilt geosynchronous communications satellite, its Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage completed its fifteenth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The fairings on this flight completed their tenth and sixteenth time, respectively.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

71 SpaceX
30 China
8 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads the world combined in successful launches, 83 to 45, while SpaceX by itself still leads the entire world, including other American companies, 71 to 57.

In just over half a year, SpaceX has now exceeded the annual record of 70 launches by the entire United States, set in 1966 and held until 2022.

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